Split Pea Soup-er

I have to start this one off with some honesty: I have sort of a natural aversion to split pea soup that I’ve never quite been able to explain. I mean sure, it’s the only soup that happens to be singled out as the one foodstuff we associate with demonic possession, but that doesn’t seem like a good reason to blame the soup. I think it’s more traceable back to my lifetime phobia of dark, shrouded figures. I’ve always been terrified of any shadowy figure whose face I can’t see. Hated the Scream movies. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come from A Christmas Carol? I watch that scene with my eyes closed.

And I file split pea soup in that category. I know tons of people love it, but it just seems to lack the openness and transparency of a nice chicken noodle or a Manhattan clam chowder. What is it concealing in its thick, verdant folds? Sure, it could be diced ham…or marbles. It could be anything. What, exactly, does split pea soup have to hide?

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This is probably why, until last month, it never occurred to me to make split pea soup. But once I got to thinking about it, and realized I’d never tried making it, it suddenly became unchartered territory, giving it instant allure. Maybe I would gain a better understanding of pea soup and what the fuss is all about. Maybe pea soup and I could be friends. Plus, I would get to use a whole ham hock, and I’ll pretty much cook anything that justifies use of a whole ham hock.

For the recipe, I turned to my Joy of Cooking. My copy, which belonged to my aunt, is very neatly bound in a pretty floral wrapping, but it’s the 1964 edition. According to the joykitchen website, this is the first edition of the classic cookbook that Marion Rombauer revised without the help of her mother, Irma, who suffered a series of strokes beginning in 1955. The Rombauer family collectively has published eight separate editions of Joy of Cooking.

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The Joy of Cooking’s got a pretty storied history. Rombauer spent more than a year following her husband’s death channeling her grief into assembling a collection of favorite recipes, according to the website. In those days, most American cookbooks were penned by dieticians or cooking school grads, but Rombauer was neither, yet she filled a niche that ended up guiding scores of home cooks.

From the website: A complete amateur with no official credentials, she nonetheless knew that neophyte cooks somehow learn faster in the company of a friend. This small, chic, witty, and immensely forceful woman appointed herself that friend.

I’ve always found this book to be a sort of workhorse cookbook. It doesn’t strike the chords of inspiration in the same way as Silver Palate’s fancy menus and pithy food quotes. But if you really need to know how to make a batch of fresh tamales or how one goes about cooking up an eel, it’s there for you.

And that being said, the split pea soup recipe turned out beautifully. Split pea soup and I, for the moment, are getting along quite nicely.

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Split Pea or Lentil Soup

Wash and soak: 2 cups split peas. I did a quick boil (boil 10 minutes, soak for an hour in the boiling liquid.)

Drain the water, reserving the liquid. Add enough water to the reserved liquid to make 10 cups. (I used beef stock for this.) Add peas back in, cook for 21/2 to 3 hours with:

A turkey carcass, a ham bone, or a 2-inch cube of salt pork

Add the following and simmer and covered, for ½ hour longer until tender:

½ cup chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery with leaves

½ cup chopped carrots (I made mine a full cup because I’m neurotic and hate with when my celery to carrot ratio is out of whack)

1 clove garlic

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon thyme

dash cayenne pepper or a pod of red pepper

Remove bones or carcass, Put soup through a sieve. Chill and skim grease.            Melt 2 tablespoons butter or soup fat and stir in 2 tablespoons flour. Add a little of the soup mixture and heat through before adding contents back to soup pot.

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